With its history of sluggish starts, scoring first has been a point of emphasis for Washington. Coach Barry Trotz recites the statistics to his team, how much the Capitals’ chances of winning improve when they get the first goal.
And then there’s this: Washington is 9-0-0 when leading after the first period. The Capitals extended that streak against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday night in a 4-1 win.
“It’s easier to play a hockey game with a lead,” Nate Schmidt said. “Especially on the road, you kind of take the crowd out of it. That kind of plays to our advantage, once things start quieting down and we kind of get into our groove. When we get playing the way we want to play, I don’t want to say it’s monotonous, but it can be that if we get pucks in deep and letting our skill guys do their work down low and continue to cycle and do all of the things that make it, as a defenseman, hate to play against you.
“When a team’s coming at you with speed all game and getting pucks in behind you, you’re just turning and going back and getting pucks and getting hit every other shift, it’s no fun. That’s when we’re playing our best.”
On Monday night, the Capitals stressed starting strong because they knew Pittsburgh would be motivated after a weekend coaching change. Washington’s first line scored on its second shift of the game, a Nicklas Backstrom snipe from the slot, improving the Capitals to 14-1-0 when scoring first.
“We were stressing it quite a bit before the game, that they’re going to come out with some intensity, they’re going to try to impress the new coach and they’re going to earn their ice time,” T.J. Oshie said. “You get lifted when you have a new opportunity. … I thought we did a good job matching their intensity.”
Trotz has said the Capitals are better at managing the game with a lead than they were a year ago. But it’s still not perfect: Washington had 15 shots against in Tampa Bay on Saturday night and then allowed 45 shots on goal against the Penguins.
“The other team is pressing a little bit obviously,” Trotz said. “You’re trying to get the next goal. You’ve just got to manage it right. I thought, at times, we did a really good job in the second. We seem to do a good job for long stretches, and then we’ll have five minutes of chaos. We’ve just got to make sure we can get the chaos shifts out of our game.”